Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the Nürburgring, along comes Renault with yet another version of the Renaultsport Megane. Bad news if you’re Seat, and were hoping to hold onto your front-wheel drive lap record a little longer; everyone else, please be upstanding for the Megane RS 275 Trophy-R, spiritual successor to the previous-generation Megane R26.R.
Not to be confused with the lesser Megane Trophy, the Trophy-R is the exact spec of Megane that carved four seconds off the Leon Cupra 280’s 7min 58sec Nordschleife lap time in May 2014 – thus returning the record to Renault at 7min 54sec.
And by exact spec, we mean the test car has neither radio nor air-conditioning, but does enjoy a lightweight lithium ion battery, 350mm front brakes, and the same dubious paint and stickers as the record breaker. It also costs nearly forty grand…
£40k for a Renault Megane and you don’t even get a radio? What on earth is going on here?
Imagine a riot in four-wheeled form. While the regular Trophy already sports this car’s uprated 271bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol and Akrapovic titanium exhaust, the R features expensive Öhlins adjustable dampers, exotic Allevard composite front springs and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres for extra handling chops.
It’s also almost 100kg lighter – so although Renault will let you option back the radio for £500 (the price including sat-nav for your trouble) that would be tangential to the spirit of the thing. Stand strong. At least until you learn that a lot of the weight saving has come via removal of the sound deadening. After three hours on the motorway, we’d say it’s probably best to order that radio after all.
The standard seats are also entirely absent – the fronts replaced by a gloriously focused pair of fixed-back Recaro buckets, the rears by a strut bar and shopping-saving storage nets. Yep, this is a two-seater not-so-family hatchback. The same £1995 ‘Nürburgring Pack’ that gives you the fancy battery and big brakes (both of which are also lighter than standard) includes racing harnesses and a set of tyre covers, Renault having made sure four full-sized wheels will fit comfortably in the back.
Don’t think this is a gimmick: the Pilot Sport Cups are awesome in the dry and effective in the damp – but will see you shed some personal kilos if you hit standing water in the wet. Scotchgard the seat fabric before setting off.
You’re making the Trophy-R sound scary – is it?
Torrential precipitation situations aside, quite the opposite. This car has been set up to deliver scintillating long-distance lap times, and as such it is hugely sticky in the turns. On the road you lose perhaps a smidgeon of the playfulness present in other rapid Renaults, but gain instead superb stability and precision. You can tell plenty of time and money has been spent on the chassis: it soaks up mid-corner bumps beautifully while keeping the Trophy-R flat and thoroughly engaged with the road surface.
The standard Renaultsport limited slip diff and ‘PerfoHub’ double-axis front suspension keeps the torque steer in check – though you will still feel the wheel tug if you’re hard on the throttle as you cross the centre line for an overtake. Not that you need to be hard on the throttle at this point; the engine is mighty and builds revs so fast you’ll be glad of the little upshift bing ahead of the limiter. Assuming you hear it. Which isn’t guaranteed.
The Trophy-R is surprisingly refined at a cruise. Nail the right hand pedal to the stop, however, and like the R26.R before it, the combination of induction roar and Ti exhaust makes this incredibly distinctive scouring noise. It’s as if you’ve got Darth Vader trapped under the bonnet, but instead of saying ‘Luke, I am your father,’ he’s screaming ‘I’ll puke if you go any faster!’
Ok, I’m starting to get the picture – what’s not to like?
Not much. Throwing a little frisson of challenge into the mix, really committed upshifts are accompanied by a pop from the tailpipe – so whenever you don’t get one, the car is basically suggesting you aren’t trying hard enough. But hold the current gear too long and you’ll clatter into the rev limit, your failure to execute advertised to the world by a rat-tat-tat from the exhaust like a machine gun. Just try and keep a straight face, we dare you.
Further popping and banging is also present and correct for all your tarmac rallying fantasy pleasure, the steering weight is meaty and accurate, and you get to change gear with a proper six-speed manual gearbox. Making the Trophy-R something of an antidote to the digitally enhanced, flappy-paddle random ratio-ness of the current Renaultsport Clio. Then again, you are paying twice the price.
Which brings us back to that particular éléphant dans la pièce. Without options the Trophy-R is £36,430, our test car came in at £39,300 (and that’s before spending the £1000 required for infotainment and climate control). We’re not disputing the value of the underlying hardware; the question is whether you could stomach the quality of the cabin materials, which struggle to justify themselves in an entry-level Megane, let alone this one.
Only 30 Trophy-Rs will be offered for sale in the UK, out of a total production run of 250 – so it’s rare as well as exceptionally rapid. Judged by lap times alone, this is the ultimate expression of Renaultsport’s prowess; yet it’s far from too extreme to use on the road. Even the ride quality is more than acceptable. The price on the other hand… well, that’s up to you.